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Entries in Travel (43)


Re-cap: Mohegan Sun's first annual "Sun BBQ Fest"

Last weekend, I was invited to cover Mohegan Sun's first annual "Sun BBQ Fest."  The three-day festival featured live bands, cooking demonstrations, a rib-eating contest, and plenty of saucy BBQ from some of the nation's best.  Talk about one protein-packed, finger lickin' good, hell of a fun time!

When I received my invitation, I was elated.  Who better than me, a displaced Southerner, to attend a BBQ festival?  I mean, come on, let's be honest here, y'all:  While I may live in Yankee territory, I am a Texan by birth and at heart. 

Mohegan Sun was generous enough to "and guest" me, meaning that I could invite a side-kick.  Without hesitation, I asked my fellow Texpat, Cathryn, to tag along.


Friday, June 1st

On Friday evening, Cathryn and I took a Connecticut-bound Amtrak train to New London.  The ride was nearly 3-hours!  Upon our arrival at the station, we were met by a *limo* from the Mohegan Sun.  Whoa. 

The two of us could not stop laughing, gawking, texting our friends, and snapping pictures of the car's interior and ourselves.  I'm pretty sure the driver wanted to kill us...

By the time we arrived and checked-in to the hotel, it was about 10pm.  The two of us were famished and in desperate need of a cocktail, so we headed downstairs.  Instead of reading every menu at each of the property's 40 restaurants, we put our indecisive ways aside and settled on Bar Americain.  

Mohegan Sun: Looking up at Bar Americain

Obviously, I got the party started with a margarita.  And a mighty tasty one, at that.  For my entree, I chose the "Gulf Shrimp & Grits, Bacon, Green Onions, Garlic."  I could have eaten two more portions but, instead, I chose to fill up on the contents of our bread basket:  Delicious, warm jalapeno cornbread and fluffy Parker House rolls.     

By midnight, Cathryn and I were sound asleep.


Saturday, June 2nd

I had my alarm set for 8:30am, as media check-in was to begin at 10am (the event was slated to commence at 11am).  When I reached over to the silence the beeping, I checked my email and was startled to learn that, due to the rainy forecast, the Festival would not start until 3pm!  Cathryn and I ended up going back to sleep until 12:30pm - something that, admittedly,  I have not done since college! 

After getting ready for the day and perusing some of the hotel's shops, it was time to check-in for the Festival. 

The Festival was held in one of the hotel's outdoor parking lots.  And, luckily, by 3pm, the rain had finally decided to take a little break. 

Rum sponsor: Sailor Jerry's

Beer? Yuck. Wine? No way. Champagne? Yes please!Fried Connecticut oyster po'boy sandwichPulled-pork sandwichGrilled cornMore pulled-pork!Texas Thunder BBQ's baby back ribsTexas Thunder BBQBeef brisket sandwich

After stuffing ourselves silly with champagne, baby-backs, and BBQ sandwiches, Cathryn and I were thrilled to learn that there would be a rib-eating contest at 4pm!  Hey, there's nothing better than watching someone (...other than yourself) binge eat! 

Setting the stage: Chairs would soon be occupied by the rib-eating contest contestants!Tray after tray after tray of ribs for the contest!EMS was on-hand just in case...!The contest's emcee The emcee picked a random guest out of the crowd to join the competitors! "Mitch" was the lucky guy!Whew! Look at those guns! I literally could not stop taking photos of this hottie. Damn!

Champion, Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, chugs water between rib inhalation.It was about this point in the contest when I felt a vibration in my purse.  Just as I was looking down to see who had called me, I heard something splatter on the stage.  Then, I inhaled "the whiff."  That's right, one of the contestants had PROJECTILE VOMITED on stage and, because of my close proximity, I was assaulted by chunks.  On my jacket.  On my purse.  On my cheek.  "Damn it," I squealed to Cathryn, "did this idiot not learn ANY drinking etiquette in high school or college?  Geez.  I thought EVERYONE knew to yack down and not up/across!  Jerk."

After the 12-minute rib-eating contest had finished, a winner was crowned:  Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, the world-famous competitive eater, took first place!  And, among all men, it was the adorable WOMAN who came in a close second!

The Lunch Belle and Joey "Jaws" ChestnutAfter changing in to different clothes and scrubbing puke off of my purse, Cathryn and I enjoyed our last evening at the hotel over wine and, even more, food at Ballo.

Marinated watermelon salad with stracciatella, crispy prosciutto, and pistachioMargherita pizzaRigatoni w/ spicy sausage ragu and fonduta...

Sunday, June 3rd

Because I had to be back in the city for a dance recital, Cathryn and I headed home on a 10:30am train.  It was during this nearly 3-hour ride in the "quiet car" that I was able to reflect on what I had experienced and learned over the weekend:

  • If you have plans to visit the Mohegan Sun, request a non-smoking (that is, if you do not smoke and/or enjoy the smell) room on a high floor.  The views are really quite lovely.Actual view from my hotel room!
  • The shops and restaurants at Mohegan Sun stay open later than those at the Wynn Las VegasWhat the hell is that all about?  Vegas needs to step it up. 
  • Always have cash on-hand to tip a driver, bell boy, maid, etc.
  • Texas BBQ kicks Tennessee BBQ's ass!!
  • Nothing is impossible:  A short, 90-pound woman can eat more than a man.  Even if the man in question is obese.
  • Always bring snacks aboard a train.  The cafe-car line can get redonkulously long.  And annoying.
  • Carry hand sanitizer.  And antibacterial wipes.  Always.  Because YOU NEVER KNOW what's going to happen!
  • Never sit within 10-feet of the competitors at a food-eating contest.
  • Apparently, being shat-on by a bird is good luck.  How about getting puked on?  Seriously, does anyone know the answer? 


Cathryn and I had a fantastic time at Mohegan Sun's "Sun BBQ Fest."  I hope to return again next year!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


48-hours in Sin City: Tips, Opinions, eats/drinks, and photos

After a whirlwind 48+ hours in Las Vegas, I thought that it would be fun and crucial to share some of my favorite tips, observations, experiences, and photos with you.  Enjoy!

1)  Flying Delta?  Not checking your luggage?  If you're checking in to your flight online, I highly recommend paying the extra $19 to a) upgrade to 'Zone 1' boarding, and b) have access to WiFi.  Not only will you get to board the plane first (behind old people, folks w/ children, etc. and First Class) but, because you're one of the first passengers, overhead storage bins will be virtually empty!  And, if you've never experienced it, WiFi at 35,000 feet is beyond cool and makes the dreaded flight time breeze by.  

2)  The taxi line at McCarren International Airport is as long and tangled as an accordion.  If you have no time to spare and/or plenty of money to burn, then do yourself - and your blood pressure - a favor and hire a private car to come and fetch you upon arrival. 

3)  And, speaking of taxis, make sure to have cash on-hand for payment.  While some vehicles now accept credit cards, you will be charged a hefty $3 fee just for swiping your plastic.  No thanks!

4)  Hate smoke?  Well, you're out of luck - because cigarette puffing is EVERYWHERE in Las Vegas.  Either deal with it or choose a different destination.  Seriously. 

5)  Guys:  If you DO NOT want to get laid, then make sure to wear jean shorts AND mandals.  At the same time. 

6)  If you need even more proof that the Kardashian's have taken over the world, then head over to The Mirage for confirmation.  Sigh.  Eye roll.  Gag.

7)  Curious to see the grand canal and the shops at The Venetian?  Fine, take a peak at the charming gondoliers - snap a photo or two - then do a pivot and get the hell out of there.  If you're not in to shit-shows and gnarly crowds, I highly recommend The Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace.   

8)  And, while we're on the topic of shopping:  If you absolutely DO NOT want to receive good service whilst shopping - especially at high-end indoor malls - then make sure and come dressed like this:

9)  If you think that 'people watching' in NYC or Venice Beach is outrageous, you ain't seen NOTHIN' yet.  Vegas, hands down, takes the blue ribbon for 'best people watching.'  Of all time.

10)  Ladies, a word of advice:  You may want to reconsider traveling to Vegas with your man.  Trust me, no matter how amazing you think you look - there is another chick(s) who's 100x hotter.  And, believe me, he will *not* be able to stop staring.  I couldn't, either.

11)  In some aspects, Las Vegas seems like a mini-Manhattan.  There are so many NYC outposts of restaurants, bars, and boutiques.  Some examples include:  Scoop, Intermix, Tao, 1Oak, Max Brenner, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill...

12)  And, just like NYC, many restaurants in Las Vegas are outrageously expensive.  Actually, the prices in Vegas are even *more* offensive.  Be very mindful of food/drink menus and order wisely.  Mom, my Vegas travel buddy, and I would typically order a couple of appetizers and split one entree.  It was a great system that saved us both cash and calories!

13)  And speaking of restaurants

~ We enjoyed lunch at Stripburger, which is located on the outside of the Fashion Show Mall complex, and across the street from the Wynn.  How can you go wrong with outdoor seating - great cocktails - burgers cooked to your liking - fantastic fries, onion rings, fried pickles - and all of the ranch dressing that your heart desires?  

~ For dinner, we headed to Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico's Steakhouse, located within the brutally annoying/overwhelming/panic attack-inducing Grand Canal Shoppes at The VenetianMom said it best, "This entire hotel complex looks as though its architects and interior designers had high hopes, but ran out of money towards the end of construction."  The same observation could be said of the restaurant:  While you gaze up at beautifully vaulted, arched ceilings, the column to your left is squared-off sheetrock.  Blech.

Our dinner at Delmonico's Steakhouse was mediocre, at best.  Here are some of the key reasons that I would not return:

  • Mom's margarita was overly salty and sour (even for me, a salt/sour whore).  When we informed our server, he looked at us like we each had 10 heads.  While he did offer to have it remade, he sure as hell did not seem sympathetic or pleased.  We saw him take Mom's drink over to his manager and explain the situation with less-than-thrilled facial expressions and hand gestures.   
  • Drinks, round 2:  Our server got heated when, upon tasting the first bottle of red wine, I asked that we switch to something else (hey, it tasted carbonated and extremely sour). 
  • The iceberg lettuce leaves in the "Petite Iceberg Lettuce Wedges" salad were limp.
  • There was not enough burrata cheese in the "Vine Ripened Tomato Salad."  
  • Our filet was cooked "medium rare," instead of our requested "medium."  But, by this point in the meal, we were too exhausted to correct the order.

The one item on Delmonico's menu that I *would* return for?  The ridiculously rich, perfectly-scalloped and garlic-y "Potato Gratin" that arrived bubbling over the brim of a cast iron skillet.  I'm drooling just writing about it...

~ The award for 'worst service of the entire trip' goes to La Cave, a wine/tapas restaurant at the Wynn.  After returning to the hotel from our 7pm "The Beatles Love" performance, Mom and I were hungry.  We didn't want a full, elaborate meal; we were simply hoping to enjoy some heavy snacks and a great glass of wine.  

We arrived at La Cave at approximately 10:10pm, and were greeted by two hostesses.  "Hi.  Are you joining us for dinner or just drinks?"  Both.  "OK, we have a spot open at the bar.  You can squeeze in another chair, or we can seat you at a table.  But just an FYI:  We're closing our kitchen in 10-minutes, so we're having last-call."  How would *another* chair fit at the bar?  There's not enough room.  OK, we'll take a table, then.  "If you sit at the bar, then there isn't a 'last call,' you know."  Oh, so we can order food/drink at the bar w/out being rushed?  "No, you can only order food for another 10-minutes.  Even at the bar.  It's 'last call.'"  Huh?  I'm confused.  But you just said...never mind.  We'll take a table, please.  

The hostess seats us in front of an open terrace door, gushing the interior space with wind drafts.  I ask if we can, instead, be seated outdoors.  "There's not a table open."  The beotch was lying - I saw plenty of space out there - but I didn't have it in me to punch her in the face fight. 

Mom and I eventually moved ourselves to another table.  Since we ended up waiting for an unreasonable amount of time, I had to excuse myself and advise an employee that we'd like to see menus and, eventually, order food/drink.  We were served by a kind man who informed us that the kitchen did not close until 11pm.  Interesting point, since the HOstess lied to our faces and said that the "kitchen closes in 10-minutes (which would have been 10:20)."  

La Cave was a 'fail' on so many levels.  Our cheese platter was accompanied by crostini - Mom's wine was $17/glass - my margarita sucked - and the service was beyond heinous.   

14)  And speaking of the Wynn

Despite our shiteous experience at La Cave, Mom and I thoroughly enjoyed this gorgeous hotel.  Never, in my life, have I stayed in a more beautifully appointed and furnished room.  Every detail, down to the toiletry bottles being 'pop top' as opposed to 'screw top,' was incredibly well thought-out and delivered. 

Here are some of my favorite aspects of the hotel:

  • Our room was 640 square feet.  That's larger than my apartment in NYC!
    • *Our bathroom contained a separate tub and shower, plus 2 sinks!
    • *Lights and curtains were powered electronically, via a digital screen on the wall.
  • Unlike other hotels - especially other hotels in the immediate vicinity - every employee knew where each restaurant/shop/nightclub/pool was located on the property.  The staff was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly.
  • I never felt like I was at a Sandals resort or aboard a Carnival Cruise ship (while at the hotel):  You can use your imagination/make your own assessment of what I'm talking about...
  • The shops, while completely outrageous and extravagant, were fun to browse in and window-shop.


Mom and I had a fantastic "girl's weekend" in Vegas!  The people watching, weather, shopping, and hotel-hopping was priceless.  As was the 1x1 time that we got to spend together. 

I cannot wait to return to 'Sin City,' especially knowing all that I know now.  Do you have any tips or favorite experiences in Las Vegas?  Holla'!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


A recap: Day 2 of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

There's nothing quite as ideal as waking up in a random hotel room - walking over to the window to draw the blackout shades - and peering out on to a picture-perfect, cloud-free sky.  Especially when you're in a beach town.  "Em!  Wake up!  Come on!  We need to take a beach walk, eat breakfast, and grab some chaise lounges at the pool!  Hurry up!"  As Emily lifted her eye mask, she let out a big sigh.  "OK, OK," she mumbled between yawns, "give me 10 minutes."  Our first SBWFF event was not until the evening, after all, so the two of us had nearly all day to take advantage of Miami's gorgeous water and weather...

We began the morning with a leisurely beach walk......and passed quite a few lovely hotels!Upon returning to the Eden Roc, our "home away from home," Em and I thoroughly enjoyed the delicious and bountiful items making up the breakfast buffet at 1500 Degrees, the restaurant within our hotel.

Pineapple chunks, quartered kiwi, and halved passion fruit!Among the hodge-podge of starch on my plate was the "Ropa Vieja Eggs Benedict." Absolutely fantastic and very "Miami."After a leisurely afternoon by the pool and beach, Em and I met our friend, Bryan, for early evening cocktails at South Beach's most famous hotel, the Delano.  Below are some of my favorite shots from this uber sexy and swank venue:

Horrible photo quality, but it's proof that we were there (w/ Bryan)!~

First event of the evening:  "Thrillist's BBQ & The Blues," hosted by Michael Symon

Em and I were particularly pleased that this event was held at our hotel, as the soiree following this one would take us next door, to the Fountainebleu!  Sometimes, things just work out in your geographical favor!

Sponsored by Thrillist, an online media source who publishes one of my favorite daily emails (think local recommendations for food, drink, travel, events, etc.), and hosted by celebu-chef, Michael Symon, this outdoor BBQ 'n booze fest was the perfect way to begin our night!  Restaurants from across Miami featured some of their signature smoky bites. 

As if all of that weren't enough, the audience was serenaded by peppy ragtime band, Diablo Dimes & The Bloodhounds.  And my personal 'cherry on top?'  I spied Jeff Mauro, a.k.a "Sandwich King," from The Next Food Network Star!  Love him.

Crowds gather around one of Eden Roc's poolsPanorama of eventMy man, Jeff Mauro!

Music provided by: Diablo Dimes & The Bloodhounds~

Second event of the evening:  "Food & Wine and La Cote Mediterranean Grill Celebrate the Release of Gail Simmons' New Book, Talking With My Mouth Full."

Em and I were graciously "and guest-ed" to this exclusive party, which was held at Fountainebleu's sexy outdoor restaurant/bar, La Cote

Upon entering the bash, we couldn't help but gawk at the scantily-clad ladies 'striking a pose' at the step-and-repeat...we soon joined them!

How hot are they? Remind me, again, why I'm posing like a cheerleader? Sigh.Glasses of champagne and Kir Royale-on-ice were passed, as were savory hors d'oeuvres and bite-sized desserts.  However, the most delicious treat of the evening was mingling with the likes of Bobby Flay, Dana Cowin, and her culinary majesty, Miss Gail Simmons

Photo: Gail Simmons, Casa DragonesSome time after midnight - though I couldn't give you an exact number - Em and I slowly made the short trek back to our hotel.  We found the Fountainebleau's twinkling pool bottoms particularly fascinating...good thing one/both of us didn't fall in!

Even the pools at the Fountainebleau sparkle at night!Saturday was, truly, just another incredibly amazing and delicious day in paradise!  'Til tomorrow...


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


A recap: Day 1 of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival

On Friday morning, February 24th, I arrived in beautiful, sunny Miami for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.  After checking in to my hotel, the first item on the agenda was to fetch my event passes from the Media Suite at the Loews Miami Beach...and snoop around the Hospitality Suite (chock-full of goodies)!

Next item of business?  Return to my hotel - quickly change in to my swim suit - and hit the pool/beach.  Hey, a girl's gotta' have some down time!

For lunch, I grabbed the healthiest item I could find on Eden Roc's Cabana Beach Club menu:  "Blackened Salmon Salad" (sub salmon for grilled shrimp).  Why "healthiest," you ask?  Because I knew that the remainder of my meals in Miami would be overly abundant, indulgent, and gluttonous.  Though I'm sure the two frozen margaritas I sipped poolside didn't aid much in my lo-cal endeavors...


First event of the evening:  "Ultimate Beginnings Wine & Cheese Party," hosted by Josh Wesson & Laura Werlin

Held on the sprawling rooftop terrace - overlooking the turquoise sea and palm tree "tops" - at The Betsy Hotel, the Ultimate Beginnings Wine & Cheese Party featured a multi-table spread consisting of a selection of pours from Winebow, and a variety of fromage (chosen specifically to compliment the wines) from the Cheese Course.  Hosts, Josh Wesson and Laura Werlin, were on-hand to answer attendees' questions, pose for photos, and mingle.

We heart you, Michael!!Photo: Billy Farrell Agency (left to right: Emily, Josh Wesson, The Lunch Belle)The Betsy Hotel: a view from the topFabulous pairing sauce from the Cheese Course~

Second event of the evening:  "Wine Spectator's Best of the Best," at the Fountainebleau

This event ended up being one of my favorites of the entire weekend!  Held at the fabulous Fountainebleau Miami Beach (hotel), this grand soiree featured dishes from the best new chefs in the country, which were paired with wines rated 90 points or higher on Wine Spectator's scale! 

Wineries of note included:

  • Champagne Laurent-Perrier
  • Champagne Nicoloas Feuillatte
  • Inniskillin (yummy ice wine)
  • Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
  • Sterling Vineyards

Chefs/restaurants of note included:

  • Hugh Acheson (Five & Ten, Athens, GA)
  • Nick Anderer (Maialino, New York, NY)
  • David Burke (David Burke Townhouse, New York, NY)
  • Marco Canora (Hearth Restaurant, New York, NY)
  • Scott Conant (Scarpetta at Fontainebleau Miami Beach, FL) - met him!  What a babe...!
  • Ariane Daguin (D'Artagnan, New York, NY)
  • Gabrielle Hamilton (Prune, New York, NY)
  • Gerard Hayden (North Fork Table & Inn, Southold, NY)
  • Dan Kluger (ABC Kitchen, New York, NY)
  • Jian Heng Loo  (Hakkasan at Fontainebleau Miami Beach, FL)
  • Emily Luchetti (Waterbar, San Francisco, CA) - met her!  Super nice!
  • George Mendes (ALDEA, New York, NY)
  • Carlo Mirarchi (Roberta's, Brooklyn, NY)
  • Seamus Mullen (Tertulia, New York, NY)
  • Charles Phan (The Slanted Door, San Francisco, CA)
  • Angela Pinkerton (Eleven Madison Park, New York, NY)
  • Bill Telepan (Telepan, New York, NY)
  • Christina Tosi (Momofuku Milk Bar, New York, NY) - met her!

Wine glasses were given to each guest to use for tastingsSea Urchin w/ Straiciatella: Roberta's, Brooklyn

Dessert spread from the chefs at the FountainebleauMomofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi brought her "Pretzel Cake Truffles!" Yum!!Gag all you want, but ice-wine is the bomb! Especially Inniskillin's version...Chef Emily Luchetti's "Brownie Brown Sugar Parfait," Farallon Restaurant, San FranciscoMy favorite savory dish: "Short Rib Robata with Truffle Miso," Makato at the Bal Harbour Shops, Miami~

Oh, what an eventful day/night it was!  By about 10:45pm, I had no other choice but to surrender to my hotel room.  After all, I had been up since 3:30am and had a full Saturday planned.  Until then...!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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